Once upon a time, in what seems like another whole life, I had a little family: For those of you who follow me, you know that included a man named Hector who I didn’t live with, but loved for 12 years. You may not know that it also included a beautiful Golden Retriever named Sophie, who despite my thorough research of breeders, had every imaginable ailment known to the breed (e.g., allergies, allergies, allergies, and worse…). She was my first dog at age 35. I like to say she cured me from sometimes inescapable loneliness–since Hector could only offer me so much–and maybe even saved me in that she gave me some of the courage I needed to let go of, well, them.
They were my little family: in another place, at another moment of my life, when I was young and single and living with only a few, really minimal cares in the world (although you couldn’t have told me that back then), in Chicago. Hector and Sophie loved each other as much as they each loved me, maybe even because they both loved me.
They’re both gone now.
They both died of the same thing: Cancer. Now here’s the kicker: They had the EXACT SAME TYPE. (I won’t get into the details out of respect for them both, but for story purposes, sufficed to say their pain started in the back/hip.) It’s a fact that did not escape me at the time of Hector’s passing in particular, since Sophie was already gone by then; I remember Hector and I weeping wildly on the telephone over her loss, despite our no longer being together. But when Hector got what she got and ultimately passed, I couldn’t help but wonder: Am I next?
I think they call this “Survivor’s Guilt.”
In any case, I haven’t thought much about this survivor in me until very recently, when I started to have intense back/hip pain for no apparent reason. At first thought it was a knee issue since I’d had arthroscopic surgery on it just a year earlier, but when I finally broke down and went to the doctor, the pain being simply too much, he said, “Nope, your knee is fine, your back is a mess.” Turns out I have a pinched nerve in my tailbone. And while there’s an x-ray to prove it, I’m still not sure I’m fully convinced. Because not so deep inside of me, I wonder every morning when I wake up, and roll painfully out of bed, hobbling in and out of the bathroom, to the car, up and down from my chair at my desk, whether I have a tumor. Whether this is the start of my journey with what they had.
Whether it’s finally coming for me.
To which my husband says, “You don’t have a tumor. You’re okay.”
To which I wonder: If that’s true, why am I still here and they’re not?
You know, it’s been some time now, since they’ve both been gone. But, I guess, when it comes to matters of life and death, these things seem to linger–the questions, the doubt, the fear.
If anybody should be able to let go, it’s me, right? And yet, even all these years later, when I thought I was well over it–the idea that someday I’d get what they did–here I am: Still holding on.
So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to crawl head first into the battle to let go, reminding myself at every turn and cross that it’s a process. That there will be those times when we think we’re well past it, and then there it is again: In 3D, Technicolor, with the best and loudest speakers on the planet, this thing we thought we’ve long put behind us.
And I’m going to be kind to myself and take good care. Silence the guilt of that lone survivor, who thinks about her losses a lot lately. Take my meds (steroids that aren’t working, quite frankly), and go to the doctor (something I avoided for a few weeks out of fear). I’m going to face the pinched nerve head on. And when it conjures up the faces of my dearly departed, I’m not going to let it scare me; instead, I’m going to hold on to that image and let it take me back to a time in my life that was joyful, and hard, and exciting, and mundane, and confusing, and exhausting, and amazing, and, yes, fraught with complication in the sense that I ultimately left it.
And then, I’m going to let go. Again. I know, that if I do this–slowly, methodically, loving myself the whole way through–I’ll get myself upright again. And it’ll all be okay.
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Jill Sherer Murray is an award-winning writer and speaker who studies creativity, relationships and self-growth. She is also the founder of Let Go For It®, a lifestyle brand dedicated to helping individuals let go for a better life. Jill’s TEDx talk as well as her advice column, Big Wild Love: Let Go For It® were created in service to her loyal and growing fan base, who seek support in the act and the art of letting go for the love they desire and deserve. Follow Jill @letgoforit on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.